Health programs flourishing on public access TV

August 09, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

David Robeson would bump into them in the aisles at the supermarket: shoppers who had no clue how to prepare a meal.

"They're just standing in front of the cases and they want dinner, but they don't even know what they're looking at," said the 31-year-old Columbia man who said he's found a way to help the domestically challenged.

Mr. Robeson is producing a show called "Food for Thought," one of four new health programs scheduled to appear this fall on public access Channel 6. It is the greatest number of health shows ever produced at one time for the cable channel, said public access coordinator Don Perkins.

"Last year, there was one fitness program," Mr. Perkins said. "Now, there are four fitness and health-related programs."

In fact, health programs have grown twice as fast as teen shows on public access, Mr. Perkins said. The four new shows will join a host of cable TV health shows already on the air, including "Health in the 1990s," "Fun Fitness" and "Health Today."

Cable industry analysts say the recent spurt in health programming has been triggered in part by the Clinton administration's efforts to create a nationwide health care system.

"People are very concerned about the health care industry," said Florence Miller, co-producer and host of "Health Today," a monthly Cable 8 show that discusses current medical topics. "Health Care reform is a hot topic."

Others say viewers are turning to cable TV as a source of medical information.

"More people are starting to take responsibility for their own health instead of going to the doctor for every little thing," said Tara Gary, reporter and producer of "Health in the 1990s," a semimonthly show on Cable 15 that examines medical issues in the county.

Cable 15 Station Manager Serena Ferguson Mann said the station has received many more calls from viewers during the past year asking for information about the show's topics.

"We get about 10 to 15 calls a week," Ms. Mann said. "Last year at this time, we got about five calls a week."

Ms. Mann attributes the increase in calls to the show's frequent exploration of alternative medicines.

"At this point, Tara's show seems to be the only one exploring alternative treatments," Ms. Mann said.

Not for long, though.

The new public access programs will show viewers how to shop smartly and prepare simple meals, use aromatherapy to cure headaches and use low-impact aerobics to prevent heart disease.

Mr. Robeson's program, "Food for Thought," will show viewers how to read food labels, prepare simple meals and differentiate between cuts of meats.

"I want to educate them more about food products," said Mr. Robeson, who said today's microwave society has lost the art of cooking.

Another new program is called "It's Only Natural." The half-hour show will feature acupuncture, rolfing (a type of deep massage therapy), and natural remedies created from herbs, flowers and perfumes.

Producer Judy Templeton said her show will give viewers a chance to explore medical procedures they may be unfamiliar with.

"We're giving people options," Ms. Templeton said. "We're showing options that exist right here."

Another show, called "Move To Improve," will concentrate on low- and moderate-impact aerobics and discuss how exercise can lessen the risks of heart disease, diabetes and asthma.

The shows are scheduled for September and October.

Producers are strongly advised by public access officials to carry disclaimers in their programs, and are prohibited from advertising products.

"The whole idea of public access is to [air] your thoughts," said Kathy Conway, production supervisor for Channel 6 at Comcast Cablevision of Maryland. "So viewers have to sift out for themselves."

"We do encourage people to put their credentials up front, and viewers [to] get their own opinions," said James O'Connor, Howard County cable administrator.

Ms. Templeton said she has tried many of the alternative medical treatments discussed on her show, "It's Only Natural." "I'm a real believer in alternative medicine," she said.

Mr. Robeson said he is qualified to give advice about cooking on his show, "Food for Thought," because he is the son of a master meat cutter, and has experience cooking for his two young sons. "For the past four years, I've been a househusband and I've gotten into preparing food," Mr. Robeson said. "I've learned quite a bit about cooking."

On other cable channels, station managers work closely with their producers and reporters to decide what to broadcast.

People who are interviewed on "Health in the 1990s," for example, must have credentials in their field, especially if they practice alternative medicine, said Ms. Mann, station manager for Cable 15. She said the program also tries to examine both sides of an issue.

"We have to be very careful that when we're airing alternative medicine, they're approved by medical authorities," Ms. Mann said. "We have to be careful that we're not saying we're recommending this."

Whatever form it takes, health programming is here to stay, cable industry analysts say.

"I don't think it will become prime time, but I do think it's a topic permanently fixed to a minor degree on TV," said Ms. Miller, co-producer and host of "Health Today." "It'll never compete with football."

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